Monday, December 05, 2011

"This season, tell your family." -- stories of coming out atheist

For many cultural traditions, this time of year -- the solstice, the winter revels, the New Year, Christmas, Sinterklaas, Ashura, Hanukkah -- brings families together for celebration. For atheists who aren't yet out of the closet, these gatherings can be tense. And even for atheists who have been open about their worldview, the holidays can be a succession of confrontations between their values and beliefs and the disapproval, or hostility, of family members.

I'd like to invite members and friends of the Boston Atheists community to share their stories of coming out about their atheism to their family, friends, and co-workers. How did it happen, when did it? Do you have advice for people who are wondering whether or how to come out of the closet themselves?

In these last weeks of the year,  many of us could use the comfort of knowing that our difficult choices aren't unique; that there are lots of folks -- hundreds in our local community alone, I suspect -- who have faced these challenges and come out on the other side with greater peace of mind.

Feel free to post your "Tell Your Family" stories on the mailing list, by replying to this message, or at the Boston Atheists Facebook page.

From "How Do I Tell My Family I'm an Atheist? A Question of Moral Atheism" (PDF format) by Dominick Cancilla:
Some religious people associate atheism with immorality or with a rejection of God that leaves no accountability for indulging carnal desires. If your family falls into this group, you can reassure them that you are still the same good, honest, moral person you always were, but that now you are moral because it is the right thing to do, not because you fear eternal punishment.
From "How to tell your family you are an atheist", by Chris Jensen Romer:

Saying things like 'While I respect your world view I don't feel comfortable with it, I need to find my own way.' is the way to go. This does not put the other party in the position of having to fight for their view. It also leaves the door open 'I need to find my own way.' This is giving them a place where they can accept your current position as it could well not be your final position. A number of religious figures have spent time on their own finding their own way. I seem to recall Jesus is supposed to have spent 40 days and 40 nights doing exactly this. So you're in good company.
From "Coming Out to Your Family: Should You Reveal Your Atheism to Family, Parents?" by Austin Cline:
Precisely because telling others about your real beliefs and real feelings can be difficult, it can be an important step towards becoming more self-confident and mature. You could also being doing a lot to encourage better attitudes towards atheists by demonstrating how they can be moral and mature people. Perhaps there are other members of your family who also have doubts or who disbelieve — by speaking up, you will find that you share more in common with them and will also help them come to terms with who they are.
From "How Do I Reveal My Atheism To My Family?" by Austin Cline:
So, you've decided that you cannot rationally or reasonably continue with the religion which you have always been involved in and which your family continues to belong to. Indeed, you can't even continue to call yourself a theist anymore — you find belief in the existence of God to be unreasonable for one reason or another have to abandon the label altogether. Now what?

From "Coming Out to Family and Friends Without Offending" by Richard Wade:
Emphasize that your lack of belief does not reduce your love for them, or your interest in their well-being. Tell them that even though you are not convinced of what they believe, you are very convinced of their goodness as persons. Then ask them to consider you in the same way.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Two easy actions for secular culture...

.. that you can do today.

1. SIGN this petition, being presented to the White House, which asks that that "under God" clause be removed from the Pledge of Allegiance (which, as James Croft of the Harvard Humanist Chaplaincy pointed out, should really be asking that the Pledge be RESTORED to its original no-god form.)

2. SHARE your stories of discrimination against atheists, in order to raise awareness of this form of prejudice, and to show solidarity with others who are exposed to the same sort of bias. From The Friendly Atheist:
A writer from BBC News is working on an article about atheist discrimination in the workplace and it’d be great to tell some of our stories in the hopes that other people will understand what some atheists have had to deal with. The reporter writes, "I have seen a few stories on this site about people who felt excluded by their co-workers or even lost their job after expressing their beliefs. I would like to talk to people who have been through such an experience." In case you’re curious, the folks at Think Atheist have verified the posting — he is who he says he is." 
The writer's contact information can be found at this post on the Think Atheist forum.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Ben Edward Akerley reviews Good Without God

GOOD WITHOUT GOD: WHAT A BILLION NONRELIGIOUS PEOPLE DO BELIEVE by Greg M. Epstein. HarperCollins, New York. 10/10. 250 pages. $14.99 (paperback)

Greg M. Epstein holds the post of Humanist chaplain at Harvard University. For Good Without God, his Humanist primer, he chose the statistical subtitle to drive home the surprising fact that almost 1/6 of Earth's teeming billions constitute nonbelievers (with a bewildering array of various labels for their skepticism). Even in the U.S. as the developed world's by far most religious nation, at least 15% (approximately 40 million) now claim no religious affiliation with "nonreligious" representing the fastest-growing "religious preference" in all 50 states and an astonishing one in four young adults professing no religion at all.

In 1915, a Unitarian minister named John Dietrich (1878-1957) first adopted the term "Humanism" as the name for his religion since he especially liked that it echoed a connection to renaissance humanists in Europe. Finally, by 1941, Dietrich, together with others of similar belief, founded the American Humanist Association, still the leading body for Humanist activism in America.

The chaplain eschews calling Humanism a religion because it has no divinities and no supernaturalism. Instead, he opts for the European coinage "lifestance" meaning more than just a philosophy but not a divine or revealed belief system. Since Humanists only have faith in humanity, they constitute the true believers because their secular philosophy dictates that our dignity of mutual concern and self-fulfillment through service to humanity's highest ideals offer more than enough reasons that we can and should be good without God, focusing more on the "good" than on the "without God" half of the equation.

Believers and nonbelievers alike have to contend with life's three most pressing concerns: aging, sickness and death. Fear of the latter is incontrovertibly the most intense and provides the most rational explanation of how religion capitalizes on this human frailty by promising solace, comfort and seductive reassurance of immortality. The religious believe in life after death. By contrast, Humanists believe only in life before death with no need of supplication to an imaginary heavenly father.

God is the most important, influential, literary character ever created by Earthlings, but one must know precisely what is meant by God, since the more a word can mean anything, the more it means absolutely nothing. Consequently, the apologist outlines a brief history of the definition of God from Spinoza to modern day theologians whose wildly divergent take on the God question really settles nothing definitively.

Just as anthropologists have never found a culture without some form of religion, a survey of the world's major religions indicates that basically every belief system contains the equivalent of the Golden Rule and the author gives verbatim, side-by-side comparisons of this universal moral principle from eight of the leading faiths. He also undertakes an extensive exegesis of the Ten Commandments and translates the Humanist equivalent of six of them while arguing that even the most ardent nonbelievers can find total concordance with the remaining four (re: murder, adultery, stealing and slander).

Acceptance of Humanism and Atheism was severely hampered and demonized during the last century because of their connection in some cases to socialism and communism. In our new millennium, the demonization comes from the Religious Right, with leaders like Rick Warren, pastor of the Saddleback megachurch, spearheading the vicious attack. His book, The Purpose Driven Life, has become the best-selling non-fiction book in the history of publishing and its author now ranks as one of the most influential leaders of our generation. The evangelist's condemnation of every nonbeliever to spend all eternity in Hell, constitutes a profound insult and gratuitous affront to all those outside of his "fold" and his statement broadcast on national TV that he could never vote for an atheist president only served to greatly compound the offense.

My only negative criticism of this valuable entry is that as helpful as his excellent appendix is with its list of Humanist and secular resources, in a work of this wide a scope, Epstein does readers a distinct disservice by not also appending an index.

_ _ _ _ _

Related reading:

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Views of marriage in the Bible

Hat tip to BA member Jake J. for sending this along; original source unknown.

Vote in this poll: Does "under God" belong in the Pledge?

Presumably in recognition of Flag Day, the editors of the metro-west Massachusetts newspaper Sentinel & Enterprise have asked a poll question on their homepage for today, June 14: "Do the words 'under God' belong in the Pledge of Allegiance?".

Just two months ago, Atheist activist Michael Newdow failed to convince a federal court in California that references to God in the Pledge of Allegiance and on US currency are unconstitutional endorsements of religion. Newdow was not discouraged, and continues to develop legal strategies to attack this unconstitutional endorsement of a religious view by the government.

Let's encourage Newdow and others who are working to further and defend the separation of church and state, by making our views known. There are many people for whom the defense of "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance is a reflex -- they're just not thinking about that they're doing. That doesn't stop them, of course, and it doesn't discourage politicians who want to be seen as defenders of traditional values, no matter how prejudicial the status quo is against secular members of the community.

Please go to http://www.sentinelandenterprise.com today, Tuesday June 14th, and share your vote. It's just an online poll in a local newspaper, sure, but we need to make a little noise, push back a little, every time we see someone trying to drum up support for inappropriate church-state entanglement.

As of writing, there are 133 votes for the God clause, and 11 against. One of those is mine. Let's push back a little, please.

I'll be writing a letter to the editor today, to hopefully appear in the paper tomorrow. I'll share what I write on the mailing lists / message boards, and I encourage others to write as well.

So! Go to http://www.sentinelandenterprise.com and vote NO, the words "under God" should NOT appear in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Zak Bos on NPR, on the meaning of life

At the show page for NH NPR's The Socrates Exchange, you can hear me, BA director Zachary Bos, opine on the meaning of life, from 26:45-31:00. I'm sure the zampolits will tell me if I deviate from Atheist Command's official dogma. (Direct link to audio file here)

Quick answer: yes, life is *ultimately* meaningless, but so what? There are more than enough kinds of subjective, personal, human-sized meaning to keep ourselves busy with.

I had this answer ready where I talk about the impressive ways our Boston Atheists members flaunt the old idea that a life without gods is a life devoid of meaning, but it isn't in the final cut of the show. Too bad -- it would be have good to hear about we've got folks who are raising kids, who volunteer, who work in fields with low pay but high yield of social benevolence, who possess sophisticated views of the universe and their place in it, etc. Long story short: it's real nice to be a part of this crowd.

Monday, May 23, 2011

"The Last Answer" by Isaac Asimov

[NB: Amazing coincidence, that the protagonist of this famous short story by Mr. Asimov, shares a name with the founder of the Templeton Foundation. Asimov's character devotes his existence to the destruction of a 'spiritual' force with seeming limitless powers; the real life Templeton devoted his fortune to the shoring up of flimsy theological doctrines.]

Murray Templeton was forty-five years old, in the prime of life, and with all parts of his body in perfect working order except for certain key portions of his coronary arteries, but that was enough.

The pain had come suddenly, had mounted to an unbearable peak, and had then ebbed steadily. He could feel his breath slowing and a kind of gathering peace washing over him.

There is no pleasure like the absence of pain – immediately after pain. Murray felt an almost giddy lightness as though he were lifting in the air and hovering.

He opened his eyes and noted with distant amusement that the others in the room were still agitated. He had been in the laboratory when the pain had struck, quite without warning, and when he had staggered, he had heard surprised outcries from the others before everything vanished into overwhelming agony.

Now, with the pain gone, the others were still hovering, still anxious, still gathered about his fallen body –– Which, he suddenly realised, he was looking down on.

He was down there, sprawled, face contorted. He was up here, at peace and watching.

He thought: Miracle of miracles! The life-after-life nuts were right.

And although that was a humiliating way for an atheistic physicist to die, he felt only the mildest surprise, and no alteration of the peace in which he was immersed.

He thought: There should be some angel – or something – coming for me.

The Earthly scene was fading. Darkness was invading his consciousness and off in a distance, as a last glimmer of sight, there was a figure of light, vaguely human in form, and radiating warmth.

Murray thought: What a joke on me. I’m going to Heaven.

Even as he thought that, the light faded, but the warmth remained. There was no lessening of the peace even though in all the Universe only he remained – and the Voice.

The Voice said, “I have done this so often and yet I still have the capacity to be pleased at success.”

It was in Murray’s mind to say something, but he was not conscious of possessing a mouth, tongue, or vocal chords. Nevertheless, tried to make a sound. He tried, mouthlessly, to hum words or breathe them or just push them out by a contraction of – something.

And they came out. He heard his own voice, quite recognisable, and his own words, infinitely clear.

Murray said, “Is this Heaven?”

The Voice said, “This is no place as you understand place.”

Murray was embarrassed, but the next question had to be asked. “Pardon me if I sound like a jackass. Are you God?”

Without changing intonation or in any way marring the perfection of the sound, the Voice managed to sound amused. “It is strange that I am always asked that in, of course, an infinite number of ways. There is no answer I can give that you would comprehend. I am – which is all that I can say significantly and you may cover that with any word or concept you please.”

Murray said, “And what am I? A soul? Or am I only personified existence too?” He tried not to sound sarcastic, but it seemed to him that he had failed. He thought then, fleetingly, of adding a ‘Your Grace’ or ‘Holy One’ or something to counteract the sarcasm, and could not bring himself to do so even though for the first time in his existence he speculated on the possibility of being punished for his insolence – or sin? – with Hell, and what that might be like.

The Voice did not sound offended. “You are easy to explain – even to you. You may call yourself a soul if that pleases you, but what you are is a nexus of electromagnetic forces, so arranged that all the interconnections and interrelationships are exactly imitative of those of your brain in your Universe-existence – down to the smallest detail. Therefore you have your capacity for thought, your memories, your personality. It still seems to you that you are you.”

Murray found himself incredulous. “You mean the essence of my brain was permanent?”

“Not at all. There is nothing about you that is permanent except what I choose to make so. I formed the nexus. I constructed it while you had physical existence and adjusted it to the moment when the existence failed.”

The Voice seemed distinctly pleased with itself, and went on after a moment’s pause. “An intricate but entirely precise construction. I could, of course, do it for every human being on your world but I am pleased that I do not. There is pleasure in the selection.”

“You choose very few then?”

“Very few.”

“And what happens to the rest?”

“Oblivion! – Oh, of course, you imagine a Hell.”

Murray would have flushed if he had the capacity to do so. He said, “I do not. It is spoken of. Still, I would scarcely have thought I was virtuous enough to have attracted your attention as one of the Elect.”

“Virtuous? – Ah, I see what you mean. It is troublesome to have to force my thinking small enough to permeate yours. No, I have chosen you for your capacity for thought, as I choose others, in quadrillions, from all the intelligent species of the Universe.”

Murray found himself suddenly curious, the habit of a lifetime. He said, “Do you choose them all yourself or are there others like you?”

For a fleeting moment, Murray thought there was an impatient reaction to that, but when the Voice came, it was unmoved. “Whether or not there are others is irrelevant to you. This Universe is mine, and mine alone. It is my invention, my construction, intended for my purpose alone.”

“And yet with quadrillions of nexi you have formed, you spend time with me? Am I that important?”

The Voice said, “You are not important at all. I am also with others in a way which, to your perception, would seem simultaneous.”

“And yet you are one?”

Again amusement. The Voice said, “You seek to trap me into an inconsistency. If you were an amoeba who could consider individuality only in connection with single cells and if you were to ask a sperm whale, made up of thirty quadrillion cells, whether it was one or many, how could the sperm whale answer in a way that would be comprehensible to the amoeba?”

Murray said dryly, “I’ll think about it. It may become comprehensible.”

“Exactly. That is your function. You will think.”

“To what end? You already know everything, I suppose.”

The Voice said, “Even if I knew everything, I could not know that I know everything.”

Murray said, “That sounds like a bit of Eastern philosophy – something that sounds profound precisely because it has no meaning.”

The Voice said, “You have promise. You answer my paradox with a paradox – except that mine is not a paradox. Consider. I have existed eternally, but what does that mean? It means I cannot remember having come into existence. If I could, I would not have existed eternally. If I cannot remember having come into existence, then there is at least one thing – the nature of my coming into existence – that I do not know.

“Then, too, although what I know is infinite, it is also true that what there is to know is infinite, and how can I be sure that both infinities are equal? The infinity of potential knowledge may be infinitely greater than the infinity of my actual knowledge. Here is a simple example: If I knew every one of the even integers, I would know an infinite number of items, and yet I would still not know a single odd integer.”

Murray said, “But the odd integers can be derived. If you divide every even integer in the entire infinite series by two, you will get another infinite series which will contain within it the infinite series of odd integers.”

The Voice said, “You have the idea. I am pleased. It will be your task to find other such ways, far more difficult ones, from the known to the not-yet-known. You have your memories. You will remember all the data you have ever collected or learned, or that you have or will deduce from that data. If necessary, you will be allowed to learn what additional data you will consider relevant to the problems you set yourself.”

“Could you not do all that for yourself?”

The Voice said, “I can, but it is more interesting this way. I constructed the Universe in order to have more facts to deal with. I inserted the uncertainty principle, entropy, and other randomisation factors to make the whole not instantly obvious. It has worked well for it has amused me throughout its entire existence.

“I then allowed complexities that produced first life and then intelligence, and use it as a source for a research team, not because I need the aid, but because it would introduce a new random factor. I found I could not predict the next interesting piece of knowledge gained, where it would come from, by what means derived.”

Murray said, “Does that ever happen?”

“Certainly. A century doesn’t pass in which some interesting item doesn’t appear somewhere.”

“Something that you could have thought of yourself, but had not done so yet?”

“Yes.”

Murray said, “Do you actually think there’s a chance of my obliging you in this manner?”

“In the next century? Virtually none. In the long run, though, your success is certain, since you will be engaged eternally.”

Murray said, “I will be thinking through eternity? Forever?”

“Yes.”

“To what end?”

“I have told you. To find new knowledge.”

“But beyond that. For what purpose am I to find new knowledge?”

“It was what you did in your Universe-bound life. What was its purpose then?”

Murray said, “To gain new knowledge that only I could gain. To receive the praise of my fellows. To feel the satisfaction of accomplishment knowing that I had only a short time allotted me for the purpose. – Now I would gain only what you could gain yourself if you wished to take a small bit of trouble. You cannot praise me; you can only be amused. And there is no credit or satisfaction in accomplishment when I have all eternity to do it in.”

The Voice said, “And you do not find thought and discovery worthwhile in itself? You do not find it requiring no further purpose?”

“For a finite time, yes. Not for all eternity.”

“I see your point. Nevertheless, you have no choice.”

“You say I am to think. You cannot make me do so.”

The Voice said, “I do not wish to constrain you directly. I will not need to. Since you can do nothing but think, you will think. You do not know how not to think.”

“Then I will give myself a goal. I will invent a purpose.”

The Voice said tolerantly, “That you can certainly do.”

“I have already found a purpose.”

“May I know what it is?”

“You know already. I know we are not speaking in the ordinary fashion. You adjust my nexus is such a way that I believe I hear you and I believe I speak, but you transfer thoughts to me and from me directly. And when my nexus changes with my thoughts you are at once aware of them and do not need my voluntary transmission.”

The Voice said, “You are surprisingly correct. I am pleased. – But it also pleases me to have you tell me your thoughts voluntarily.”

“Then I will tell you. The purpose of my thinking will be to discover a way to disrupt this nexus of me that you have created. I do not want to think for no purpose but to amuse you. I do not want to think forever to amuse you. I do not want to exist forever to amuse you. All my thinking will be directed toward ending the nexus. That would amuse me.”

The Voice said, “I have no objection to that. Even concentrated thought on ending your own existence may, in spite of you, come up with something new and interesting. And, of course, if you succeed in this suicide attempt you will have accomplished nothing, for I would instantly reconstruct you and in such a way as to make your method of suicide impossible. And if you found another and still more subtle fashion of disrupting yourself, I would reconstruct you with that possibility eliminated, and so on. It could be an interesting game, but you will nevertheless exist eternally. It is my will.”

Murray felt a quaver but the words came out with a perfect calm. “Am I in Hell then, after all? You have implied there is none, but if this were Hell you would lie to us as part of the game of Hell.”

The Voice said, “In that case, of what use is it to assure you that you are not in Hell? Nevertheless, I assure you. There is here neither Heaven nor Hell. There is only myself.”

Murray said, “Consider, then, that my thoughts may be useless to you. If I come up with nothing useful, will it not be worth your while to – disassemble me and take no further trouble with me?”

“As a reward? You want Nirvana as the prize of failure and you intend to assure me failure? There is no bargain there. You will not fail. With all eternity before you, you cannot avoid having at least one interesting thought, however you try against it.”

“Then I will create another purpose for myself. I will not try to destroy myself. I will set as my goal the humiliation of you. I will think of something you have not only never thought of but never could think of. I will think of the last answer, beyond which there is no knowledge further.”

The Voice said, “You do not understand the nature of the infinite. There may be things I have not yet troubled to know. There cannot be anything I cannot know.”

Murray said thoughtfully, “You cannot know your beginning. You have said so. Therefore you cannot know your end. Very well, then. That will be my purpose and that will be the last answer. I will not destroy myself. I will destroy you – if you do not destroy me first.”

The Voice said, “Ah! You come to that in rather less than average time. I would have thought it would have taken you longer. There is not one of those I have with me in this existence of perfect and eternal thought that does not have the ambition of destroying me. It cannot be done.”

Murray said, “I have all eternity to think of a way of destroying you.”

The Voice said, equably, “Then try to think of it.” And it was gone.

But Murray had his purpose now and was content.

For what could any Entity, conscious of eternal existence, want – but an end?

For what else had the Voice been searching for countless billions of years? And for what other reason had intelligence been created and certain specimens salvaged and put to work, but to aid in that great search? And Murray intended that it would be he, and he alone, who would succeed.

Carefully, and with the thrill of purpose, Murray began to think.

He had plenty of time.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Fear of Faith in Cambridge

(Photo by Jenna Dee; fear mongering by Harold Camping et ilk.)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Creationist lecture this Sunday

When was the last time you stopped to think about why you believe in evolution? Join Nathaniel Jeanson, Harvard PhD in Biology, THIS SUNDAY in Boston, an in-depth look at his reasons for thinking that modern biology has failed to substantiate Darwin's evolutionary hypothesis. Q&A to follow.

Free admission and free parking available at the center -- look for signs.

Jeanson has given this presentation before -- get a full report from a BA member, at http://bostonatheists.blogspot.com/2009/08/report-on-nathaniel-jeansons.html.

You can download full audio files for the lecture and Q&A session at http://w74.org/ij.

The Boston Atheist Examiner wrote it up (http://www.examiner.com/atheism-in-boston/reports-from-a-creationist-lecture-boston) and a letter I circulated about the lecture was posted at Richard Dawkins' website (http://richarddawkins.net/articles/4176).

The Institute for Creation Research thought we Boston Atheists weren't very open-minded last time: http://www.icr.org/article/harvard-phd-lecture-exposes-prejudices. This time around, we can be even more open! Open, that is, to establishing ties with members of the congregation, and being open to finding ways to help them avoid being misled by Creationist flimflam.

Where: Longwood Galleria Conference Center, 42 Longwood Avenue Boston, MA (accessible via the mall food court)
When: Sunday, March 27, 2011, 6:30 PM

Sponsored by http://calvarychapelinthecity.com/.

RSVP at http://www.meetup.com/bostonatheists/events/17048404/

STOP [praying]

As seen on Dwelly Street in Fall River, Massachusetts.
Photo by Katie Goldman.
NB: This blog does not condone gratuitous graffiti.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Something like the Golden Rule

Stefan Collini, in his new, small book, That’s Offensive! Criticism, Identity, Respect:
Where arguments are concerned—that is, matters that are pursued by means of reasons and evidence—the most important identity we can acknowledge in another person is the identity of being an intelligent reflective human being. This does not mean assuming that people are entirely—or even primarily—rational, and it does not mean that people are, in practice, always and only persuaded by reasons and evidence. It means treating other people as we wish to be treated ourselves in this matter—namely, as potentially capable of understanding the grounds for any action or statement that concerns us. But to so treat them means that, where reason and evidence are concerned, they cannot be thought of as primarily defined by being members of the ‘Muslim community or ‘Black community’ or ‘gay community.’
Says Isaac Chotiner in his review of this book:
What is crucial here is the ability of people to evaluate and to criticize, and to not feel as if their doing so is given more or less respect based on the groups to which they belong. Their words do not gain force or lose force—or “credibility,” to deploy a nonsensical and overused term—because of their specific identities.
Collini's suggestion -- that we treat others in a high-minded way, as if they had the capacity to be reasonable, is a a good rule for engagement for Atheists hoping to engage believers in discussions critical of their beliefs. (As is DBAD).If you hold to that high standard, you can hardly be faulted if the other person backs out of the tete-a-tete. Hey, all you were doing was giving them the benefit of the doubt.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Tell your rep: Support SOCAS and Vote No on "In God We Trust"

The House of Representatives Judiciary Committee will vote today on whether to reaffirm "In God We Trust" as the national motto of the United States, and encourage its public display in all public buildings, public schools, and other government institutions. The text of the resolution says in part, "... in times of national challenge or tragedy, the people of the United States have turned to God as their source for sustenance, protection, wisdom, strength, and direction." Some Americans have found in their religion the strength to bear up against difficult times; others have found reason in their religion to deny medical care to children, to commit murder, to collude with terrorism, to deny other Americans their equal part of civil liberty, and other anti-social behavior.

Congressman Randy Forbes (R-VA) is behind this resolution -- it may be said that he's leading the current legislative effort to confuse church and state. He and 64 co-sponsors (nearly all Republicans -- see list below) are hoping that the resolution's passage will encourage public display of "In God We Trust" in public schools and buildings -- a wholly unsavory practice that establishes one religious perspective (that of theism) as official, national, and patriotic, and promotes the notion that another religious perspective (that of atheism) is subversive, elitist, and un-American. Forbes is known for his promotion of Judeo-Christian doctrines and values, and for equating theism with patriotism e.g. "Recognition of the Supreme Being is the first, the most basic expression of Americanism."

The same bill failed last year -- can we do it again? How excellent it would be good if a significant portion of the large and growing population of secular Americans, would come forward and ask their Congresspeople to represent them just as well as their theistic neighbors, by voting against this resolution.

Congressman Forbes recently told Politico, "to a lot of people, the fact that this country was built on faith, the fact that faith is important, 'In God We Trust' is important." Of course, to a lot of people, that sounds like balderdash. This country was built on a Constitution, and according to that Constitution, the government use its authority to promote any position on the questions of religion, theistic or atheistic.

On this subject, Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State challenges the notion that efforts to change the national motto are motivated by anything other than the intention to adopt a slogan that represents ALL Americans. "No organization or group of graffiti artists is going around trying to cover up" the motto, Lynn told CNN, "the motto should be 'In God, or in no God, or in multiple gods we trust.'"

The text and status of House Continuing Resolution 13 can be found online at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d112:hc13:.

AN EASY WAY TO MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD
Americans United has a webform which will allow you to instantly contact your Congressperson, at http://action.au.org/au/issues/alert/?alertid=35875506.


The following U.S. Representatives have co-sponsored Randy Forbes' bill to reaffirm the national motto. Is your rep listed below? If so, please call 202-224-3121 today and say, "I'd like you to reconsider your co-sponsorship of House Continuing Resolution 13. The national motto 'In God We Trust' is a statement of religious belief, contrary to the letter and spirit of the First Amendment, and fails to adequately represent the diversity of views present in America. I want you to represent my interests, and the interests of all your constituents, by not affirming a divisive national motto."

CO-SPONSORS of "IN GOD WE TRUST"

  • Rep Aderholt, Robert B. [AL-4] - 3/11/2011
  • Rep Akin, W. Todd [MO-2] - 3/3/2011
  • Rep Alexander, Rodney [LA-5] - 1/26/2011
  • Rep Bachus, Spencer [AL-6] - 1/26/2011
  • Rep Bartlett, Roscoe G. [MD-6] - 3/3/2011
  • Rep Bishop, Rob [UT-1] - 3/16/2011
  • Rep Black, Diane [TN-6] - 3/3/2011
  • Rep Blackburn, Marsha [TN-7] - 1/26/2011
  • Rep Boren, Dan [OK-2] - 3/11/2011
  • Rep Broun, Paul C. [GA-10] - 1/26/2011
  • Rep Burgess, Michael C. [TX-26] - 1/26/2011
  • Rep Calvert, Ken [CA-44] - 3/11/2011
  • Rep Camp, Dave [MI-4] - 2/11/2011
  • Rep Canseco, Francisco "Quico" [TX-23] - 3/11/2011
  • Rep Chaffetz, Jason [UT-3] - 1/26/2011
  • Rep Coffman, Mike [CO-6] - 1/26/2011
  • Rep Conaway, K. Michael [TX-11] - 1/26/2011
  • Rep Crenshaw, Ander [FL-4] - 2/11/2011
  • Rep Davis, Geoff [KY-4] - 1/26/2011
  • Rep Ellmers, Renee L. [NC-2] - 2/16/2011
  • Rep Emerson, Jo Ann [MO-8] - 3/11/2011
  • Rep Flores, Bill [TX-17] - 1/26/2011
  • Rep Foxx, Virginia [NC-5] - 3/11/2011
  • Rep Garrett, Scott [NJ-5] - 1/26/2011
  • Rep Gingrey, Phil [GA-11] - 1/26/2011
  • Rep Goodlatte, Bob [VA-6] - 3/16/2011
  • Rep Griffin, Tim [AR-2] - 3/16/2011
  • Rep Griffith, H. Morgan [VA-9] - 2/16/2011
  • Rep Hall, Ralph M. [TX-4] - 3/16/2011
  • Rep Harper, Gregg [MS-3] - 3/3/2011
  • Rep Huizenga, Bill [MI-2] - 3/11/2011
  • Rep Jenkins, Lynn [KS-2] - 3/11/2011
  • Rep Jones, Walter B., Jr. [NC-3] - 1/26/2011
  • Rep King, Steve [IA-5] - 2/28/2011
  • Rep Kingston, Jack [GA-1] - 3/11/2011
  • Rep Kline, John [MN-2] - 1/26/2011
  • Rep Lankford, James [OK-5] - 1/26/2011
  • Rep Latta, Robert E. [OH-5] - 3/11/2011
  • Rep Lipinski, Daniel [IL-3] - 1/26/2011
  • Rep Manzullo, Donald A. [IL-16] - 3/16/2011
  • Rep McCotter, Thaddeus G. [MI-11] - 2/11/2011
  • Rep Miller, Candice S. [MI-10] - 3/16/2011
  • Rep Miller, Gary G. [CA-42] - 1/26/2011
  • Rep Miller, Jeff [FL-1] - 2/16/2011
  • Rep Neugebauer, Randy [TX-19] - 3/16/2011
  • Rep Nunnelee, Alan [MS-1] - 2/16/2011
  • Rep Pence, Mike [IN-6] - 1/26/2011
  • Rep Poe, Ted [TX-2] - 3/16/2011
  • Rep Pompeo, Mike [KS-4] - 2/17/2011
  • Rep Rahall, Nick J., II [WV-3] - 1/26/2011
  • Rep Roe, David P. [TN-1] - 1/26/2011
  • Rep Ross, Dennis [FL-12] - 2/8/2011
  • Rep Ross, Mike [AR-4] - 1/26/2011
  • Rep Shuster, Bill [PA-9] - 1/26/2011
  • Rep Simpson, Michael K. [ID-2] - 2/8/2011
  • Rep Stearns, Cliff [FL-6] - 3/11/2011
  • Rep Turner, Michael R. [OH-3] - 3/11/2011
  • Rep Upton, Fred [MI-6] - 3/11/2011
  • Rep Walberg, Tim [MI-7] - 2/8/2011
  • Rep Westmoreland, Lynn A. [GA-3] - 3/11/2011
  • Rep Wilson, Joe [SC-2] - 1/26/2011
  • Rep Wolf, Frank R. [VA-10] - 1/26/2011
  • Rep Young, Don [AK] - 3/11/2011
  • Rep Young, Todd C. [IN-9] - 3/3/2011

Is your Congressman listed above? If so, please call 202-224-3121 and encourage him or her to defend freedom of conscience and the separation of church of state, by voting against this resolution.

MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD
Use this webform, http://action.au.org/au/issues/alert/?alertid=35875506, to instantly contact your Congressperson.

NB: NB: A petition campaign to support this resolution is being led by Chaplain Gordon James Klingenschmitt. More about him at http://blog.au.org/2009/04/24/naval-maneuvers-exchaplain-admits-hes-not-all-he-appeared-to-be (and elsewhere online).

[Please circulate.]

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Who Killed More in the Bible?

From Brazilian advertising agency, Abacaxi Atomico.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Boston-area 2011 Darwin Day events

Cheers to Charles: Darwin Day pub night!
Meet up with a crowd of Boston Atheists and friends, to raise a toast to Mr. Darwin. Saturday, February 12, 8 PM, at Cambridge Common.

Boston Skeptics at the Museum of Science!
Saturday, February 12, 1-4 PM; buy your ticket and meet Liz Gaston inside the lobby -- look for the sign for the Boston Skeptics.

The Ledge screening at Harvard!

This film by Matthew Chapman stars Liv Tyler, Charlie Hunnam, Terrence Howard, and Patrick Wilson. Saturday, February 12, 6 PM, at Harvard Science Center, Hall C. Free and open to the public. Writer/director Matthew Chapman to attend.

Darwin Day Toast in Dorchester!
Saturday February 12, 8:30 PM at The Connection, 560 Dorchester Ave in Andrew Square. For questions contact William.

Matthew Chapman at Humanist Sunday Meeting!
A discussion on the role of science in American politics, at the Harvard Humanist Student Center at 12 Eliot Street, Harvard Square. Sunday, February 13, 1:30 PM. The meeting includes yoga, meditation, live music, and potluck brunch. Free and open to the public.

Lecture on biology and ID!
Abby Hafer, Professor of Anatomy and Physiology at Curry College, will deliver a talk titled "Biology and Intelligent Design: They Really Speak Different Languages." Saturday, February 26, 1:15 PM, at the Learning Center at Brookhaven, 1010 Waltham St., Lexington. Free and open to the public.

Please forward this list to interested parties. Visit DarwinDay.org for more events.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Free Thought Radio

One of my favorite weekly podcasts to listen to regularly is produced by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF). The show is hosted by co-presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor.

Last week's show was really interesting; the discussion concerned Mitch Kahle, a SOCAS activist from Hawaii, . Click here to hear (in mp3 format) how he persuaded the Hawaiian senate to end prayer in their assembly.
This episode also focuses in on on prayers taking place during sessions of the Wisconsin State Assembly. They ask Jesus for guidance, which is unconstitutional, in addition to being a little silly.

What I appreciate most about the FFRF is its dedicated focus on the separation of church and state. Ours is a secular government, and in no way, shape or form should any religion (or absence of religion) be endorsed by our government. This principle acts to protect all citizens, including those who profess religious belief.

Why I listen to podcast on atheism and science.

I like to listen to atheist and science based podcasts. Lots of them. While I drive, doing chores and everything in between. There are so many podcasts on this topic that its hard to know which one to listen to. I will be sharing some of my favorite podcasts with a link to listen in and my comments.

Before I do though, I would like to share a little bit about my self. I was born in Honduras but raised in the Boston area. My family indoctrinated me in the Catholic tradition. I was a believer until my teenage years when my questions on the bible, and the nature of god, for instance, how can a good god kill everyone in the Noah's Ark story, were answered in a unsatisfactory manner. Simply saying god works in mysterious ways seemed like it didn't answer anything.

After rejecting the idea of god, I came to realize that it was easier to believe than not believe. That's why I like to listen to atheist and science based podcasts. I knew I didn't believe, but why didn't I believe? These shows have helped me form my arguments and ideas to counter those of theists.

I hope you all enjoy.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Quote of the Week #1

So my friends tell me about how their god talks to them, and they feel His presence inside them. I want to ask them, What? That's incredible! The creator of the UNIVERSE is literally INSIDE you? Did you shit your pants?!?"
A comment on the epistemic and existential mismatch between the scale of human experience and the purported scale of the Christian god, which I overheard new BA member Aaron S. at the other end of the table while about 25 of us enjoyed the Latin-themed brunch at Tavern in the Square this morning.

Boston Nonsense Watch: New Acropolis Boston

There are signs throughout town for an outfit called  Acropolis Boston; they make regular appearances on the T and on bulletin boards in places like Porter Square. These ads invite you to discover ‘the secret to happiness’ or ‘the meaning of life’, via free seminars based on the wisdom of ancient philosophy. Looks like this is a local chapter of a larger organization, called New Acropolis. According to the website,
New Acropolis embraces and promotes principles of union inspired by such philosophies as Pythagoreanism, Neoplatonism, Theosophy and others, which in their time brought about real progress in civilization.
The mascot used in these ads is an inoffensive and amusingly pensive orange fish. Fun! The descriptions of their seminar topics are appealingly eclectic: Confucius, Aristotle, Buddha, Pythagoras, Bruno, Plato. My interest piqued, I decided to look into the history and activities of the group, and see if the information I could find would square with the benign, inviting tone of their ads. What I discovered is that the educational activities of this independent school are only a portion of their mission, and that New Acropolis Boston is part of a worldwide network. Similar facilities can be found in cities and countries around the globe. I also learned that New Acropolis has been labeled a cult by some governments and scholarly researchers.

If you’re thinking about popping by their center in Porter Square, and seeing what they’re all about, it’s a good idea to start with some questions. I thought of a few, which you’re welcome to use:
  1. TITLES. Why did the founder of the organization, Jorge Ángel Livraga Rizzi, title himself Supreme Commander of the worldwide New Acropolis organization? Are the opportunities good for new members to be promoted quickly?
  2. SPIRITS. Were the “Masters” that spoke with Mr. Livraga, to guide his spiritual development, real or imaginary, and in either case, why did they have the same names and personal histories as the spiritual beings that inspired Madame Blavatsky to found the esoteric religion of Theosophy? Is New Acropolis really just New Theosophy? Were Confucius and Pythagoras Ancient Theosophists?
  3. MONEY. After the free seminars are over, what financial obligations do members of New Acropolis have to the organization? Are members still the primary source of funding for the World Commander’s private collection of ancient artifacts?
  4. PROTOCOL. Is it preferable to be an “Axe-Bearer” or a representative of “the 3 Living Forces,” if we are to follow the instructions the World Commander left in his will to be followed during his official funeral ceremony?
  5. MARTYRS. When Mr. Livarga said to a group of New Acropolis officers, “We too need martyrs! I want Acropolitan martyrs!”, what sort of martyrdom did he have in mind? Do the staff teaching philosophy at the Cambridge or Boston Centers for Adult Education, also want martyrs for their cause? Is martyrdom a more important part of understanding the meaning of life, or the secret to happiness?
  6. LABOR. When Mr. Livarga said, “I make people work and make Acropolis until they are too tired to think of anything else,” what kind of work was he referring to – solicitation of funds, or manual labor of some kind?
The facts I refer to above – the founder’s weirdness; the Theosophy hidden behind a front of mainstream philosophy; the claims the group makes on members’ time and money – can all be verified with a little straightforward Googling. For that reason, I haven’t hot-linked to any of the sources I referred to myself when putting together this short article. My purpose here is to provoke your curiosity, and to gently challenge the benevolent, “normal” image the group projects through its advertising campaign. Without speaking to the motivation or beliefs of any given member, I can state with conviction that the organization started by Mr. Livarga in 1957 has a deeply weird and often malevolent history: shades of L. Ron Hubbard's Scientology, certainly. That doesn't mean that Acropolis Boston isn't chockful of folks who are just interested in expanding their knowledge, and exploring the history of ideas and of ideas in action.

If you’d like to learn more, do your searches and you’ll find lots of information to consider. And if you’re just interested in learning about ancient philosophy, renew your library card -- for free! Though I can't promise you won't run afoul of the secret esoteric cult that runs the BPL system. 

Boston Nonsense Watch, a free service of the Boston Atheists, examines woo-woo, pseudoscience, and dangerous religion.